Rest vs. Recovery


“So, any plans for the long weekend?”

“Now that my back is acting up, nope! I’m just going to take it easy until this back pain goes away.”

This dialogue loosely resembles part of a conversation I had with a patient last month, but it’s one I’ve had many times in clinical practice.

At one time or another we’ve all had an ache or pain, with some being more intense than others. Maybe you’ve had a nagging shoulder injury for years. Maybe you tried to pivot in soccer last night and your knee has been screaming for help ever since. In both cases, no matter how mild or severe the injury, adequate recovery is needed to get you back to your optimal day-to-day function.

So what is recovery? And is it the same thing as rest?

Recovery and rest are not synonymous.

Rest is fundamentally the stoppage of activity; refraining from any physical exertion or movement. It is a part of recovery but it’s not the whole story. Resting in a modern context is taking time to veg in front of the TV or computer, laze in bed and sometimes an excuse for people to break away from some of their healthy habits (Bummed knee? Hmm ice cream sounds good!).

Recovery on the other hand is the process in which you try to restore or regain something that is lost. Recovery has many components, one of which is relative rest. This means that resting the injured tissues in moderation can be beneficial for injury recovery but the amount of rest an injury needs is context specific. It’s therefore recommended you consult your healthcare provider with regards to any new or pre-existing complaints.

Other components of recovery include, but is not limited to rehabilitative/complementary exercise, dietary nutrition/supplementation for injury repair, various treatment modalities such as soft tissue therapies, spinal manipulation, acupuncture, appropriate use of medications, etc.  The value of these other components should not be underestimated.

The “wait-and-see” (or the “rest”) approach to managing your aches and pains requires little to no accountability for what happened to your injured tissues and the subsequent outcome of the healing process. Recovery requires diligence and engagement in a structured plan to get your injured tissues to a state where they are as strong (or stronger) than they were prior to the injury.

Recovery is a process that requires a constant state of mindfulness with respect to the needs of your body and it isn’t just reserved for those in pain. When utilizing adequate and ongoing recovery processes in response to daily stressors, the likelihood of injury is greatly decreased.

Are you taking care of your body?

Written by: Dr. Matthew Wentzell